When I first started teaching in Taiwan, I wasn’t very strict at all. All of the prior teaching I had done had been in college back at home. I was used to treating students like reasonable adults, some of whom were older than I was. Needless to say, that doesn’t work at all with elementary school kids. The only reason my students learned anything at all, or didn’t destroy the classroom for that matter, is the fact that every class had a co-teacher to keep them in line and make sure they never really started getting wild. It didn’t take much… just the presence of an authority figure and a word or two once a week or so.
Now that I’ve been teaching without any co-teachers for over two years, I’ve become that authority figure myself. I’m definitely far stricter than I would have imagined possible before, but never mean. Since I have everyone’s respect, I never have to yell at them. The only real kinds of punishments I can give students are 1) extra homework, and 2) taking points. For example, if a kid doesn’t turn in the taping assignment due on a given day, it has to be taped twice. Unless there’s some sort of trickery involved, such as turning in an old tape with a new date recorded at the beginning, no homework is ever tripled. For minor problems, such as forgetting to say the date at the beginning of a tape, forgetting to write one’s on a quiz, or doing a homework assignment in the wrong notebook, I just take a point. Considering that good students earn over 100 points over the course of a month, it doesn’t seem like that big of a punishment.
Taking a point is a surprisingly effecting punishment, though. At the end of last semester, Cindy (a “B” student), did a big homework assignment in the wrong notebook. I noticed that , while grading it, and so I made a note to myself to take a point from her total. She only made two mistakes on the assignment, so she earned four points, or three after the one point penalty for writing the assignment in the wrong notebook. The next class when I mentioned taking a point, she pulled out her homework book to show me she’d re-written the entire homework assignment (about 40 sentences) in the correct book. I was shocked. I just gave her back the one point and checked her homework. This time it was perfect. It absolutely blows my mind that after getting home, she would realize that she did the assignment in the wrong book and then redo it, more carefully than she did it the first time, and do all of this of her own volition.
There has to be some punishment for doing an assignment in the wrong book, or else nobody would bother to do it correctly. The last thing I’d ever want to do, is to make rules with no teeth and just ineffectually nag the kids. But, I’d never make a kid re-write everything just for a single careless error. Now I have to ask myself, why did she re-do the entire assignment? I’m I really intimidating the kids that much? Or is she just greedy for every last point she can get?